Updated: Sep 24
Last week we looked at 10 ways to identify if you are working with some level of nervous system dysregulation. In my experience a great many of us are, and helping and supporting women to calm and regulate their nervous systems is a key part of my work as an Ayurvedic Wellbeing and Self Love Coach. It is usually the work that is needed before you can go deeper with your health goals, business goals, soul purpose or spiritual journey and even then (as I've found out myself!) if you are a highly sensitive person, or HSP as many of my clients are, it's an ongoing process.
The primary need of a woman is to feel that she matters and that she is safe. If the nervous system is not registering that these two things are true then most of your energy is going to go into ensuring that these needs are met. This means that it is much harder to move into true expansion because our sympathetic nervous system is stuck in survival mode, and when you are stuck in survival mode it's hard enough to attend to your basic self care needs let alone any bigger goals or visions.
So, having written about how you might identify that your nervous system might be in need of some love and care, it would be remiss of me not to write about how you can start to do that! Below are some of my favourite ways to bring your nervous systems back in to balance.
1) Time and Space
In simple terms, nervous system dysregulation happens because we are, or have been, unable to fully process our experiences, and much of the time overwhelm, withdrawal, shutdown or anxiety is the result. We can think of it a little like your digestive system. When you are full of food, adding more in is going to cause you problems and make you ill. Your nervous system is the same, adding more in to a system that is already full of undigested emotions and experiences is going to make you even more overwhelmed. The nervous system cannot heal in states of busyness, it heals when we give it time and space, and this might be much more than you think you need.
2) Quiet and Calm
Along with the above goes quiet and calm. When the nervous system is dysregulated it is overstimulated. It needs calm, quiet environments in order to stimulate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Turn down the volume, turn down the lights, avoid busy stressful situations wherever you possibly can. Turn off the television and social media and allow yourself screen free time every day, especially in the 2 hours before bed. Give yourself the grace of allowing life to be really quiet for a while. The world will be still be there when you are ready reconnect.
3) Nature and Sunlight
There are numerous research studies showing the profound healing affect of nature on our stress levels and our nervous systems. Spending time in nature, calms and regulates many of our bodily systems. One large literature review found that contact with nature was associated with an increase in happiness, subjective well-being, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as a decrease in mental distress. I help clients to align themselves with the cycles of the seasons and the moon because of the profound regulatory effect this has on the nervous system. Make it a priority to spend time in nature every day if you possibly can. If this is not possible, there is also research to suggest that listening to the sounds of nature such as water or birdsong may also have some similar effects.
4) Essential Oils and Flower Essences
This is linked to the above. Using these natural wonders helps us to connect more deeply to nature. For those of us who find spiritual connection within nature, her medicine can have profound healing benefits. Essential oils connect us directly to the spirit of our mother earth, helping us to feel loved and safe. High grade essential oils stimulate pleasure receptors in the brain. Nervous system healing takes place when we are in a state of pleasure. Who doesn't enjoy a warm bath or a massage with delicious smelling oils! This is in addition to the growing clinical evidence base for the use of essential oils on calming and regulating the mood and the emotions. If you would like to find out more about using oils to support you download my free ebook here.
5) Human Contact
There has been much damaging content written by the "new age" movement about how we should all be self-sufficient, needing and relying on no-one but ourselves. However the truth is we are social beings with a need for human contact to support our survival. Our nervous systems are regulated with the safe and loving contact of other human beings and we are made to co-regulate with each other. Seek out the company of those you love and trust. Create opportunities for loving contact, hugs, cuddles and curling up together. Romantic and platonic physical contact has a calming effect but healthy intimacy with a loving, respectful partner is especially supportive and regulating.
6) Moving and Shaking
If you have ever shared your life with a pet you may have noticed how, when they experience a shock, or they have been scared or threatened they shake and shiver. You may even have had this experience yourself. Shaking and shivering is the body's way of releasing shock, fear and trauma. When you are feeling particularly emotional, overwhelmed or triggered, recreating these kinds of movements helps the body process whatever it is that you are feeling. Many of our ancient movement traditions include shaking precisely for this reason. Our ancestors knew how powerful these movements were for calming and regulating us. My favourites are some of the Kundalini Yoga Krias or simply to choose some of my favourite music and dance it out.
7) Work with your Energy System
We are not just physical bodies or our minds. Many ancient traditions describe the complex energy systems that we have as human beings. I work with the system found in the Indian Vedic texts, some of which can be traced back 3000-5000 years. This system includes the Chakras (energy centers) and Nadis (energy channels) also used in Kundalini yoga and which correspond to the nerve plexuses in the body. To work with your energy system is to work directly with the subtle aspects of your nervous system which can have a powerful effect on your physical body. Some of my own most powerful and effective healing journeys and experiences have been in working through this energy system gently and systematically. I use the Chakras as a framework to structure deep journeys for my clients when we work together one to one.
8) Get Healthy Fats
Get healthy nutrition period. But healthy fat is crucial for the building of brain and nerve tissue and in the formulation of hormones. If you are are on a journey of re-wiring the brain and creating new and healthy brain and nervous pathways you are going to be utilising fat in this process. This is not necessarily about including more fat in the diet, most of us get plenty, but we don't always get the right ones. Too often our diets are high in junk and processed fats but low in healthy, whole plant (and animal if you eat them) fats. Try to include healthy amounts of nuts and seeds, olive oil, flax oil, ghee and coconut. Oiling your body from the outside during massage can also help to nourish your nervous system as a large proportion of the nervous system can be found in the skin.
9) Grounding Practices
When we are feeling afraid, anxious or overwhelmed, we have a tendency to disconnect and check out of our bodies; our energy tends to go up and out. This is because we may have the experience or memory that our body is not a safe place to be. Grounding practices such as walking outside barefoot, using weighted blankets, and meditating with our bones can gently help us to to have experiences of safety in the body. This supports us to re-wire these old memories, patterns and experiences. Grounding practices help us to bring our energy in and down, and to connect with the earth as place of calm and safety. This regulates our heartrate and breathing and helps us to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
10) Get Enough Sleep
An overwhelmed and overstressed nervous system is a tired nervous system and is why people experiencing nervous system dysregulation also experience fatigue. It is my personal belief that this is often the cause of chronic fatigue - this was certainly the case for me. In these cases it is important for you to ensure that you allow yourself plenty of rest. 8 hours of full sleep is really the minimum. Ideally you are aiming for 8-9. Research has linked this level of sleep with lower rates of depression and and anxiety and also with a longer lifespan. I aim to be in bed by 9:30pm and to rise at 6:30am. If this is not possible for you due to family etc, allow yourself some grace and just do the best you can.
Ultimately a journey of healing the nervous system is not a once and done thing. It's a full lifestyle change that creates gradual and profound healing as you take these small steps along the road. Don't expect changes over night but if you incorporate these suggestions regularly you will absolutely start to reap the benefits. Let me know in the comments what you'll be trying and how you get on.
Helen Elizabeth xoxoxoxo